Friday, December 16, 2011

Beauty In The Desert - A Note to My Design Community

After reading this tweet from the design community's very own @JamesSwan this week, I decided to tell you about a project that is close to my heart.

At the end of February, this coming year, I will be heading up a monumental task: to build a house in a week … in Mexico. I had the opportunity to help with an Extreme Home Makeover here in Nashville a year or so back and I know pulling that off in a week in America, with corporate sponsors and large contractors, was crazy; to try doing it in Mexico with donated materials and all-volunteer labor is quite, well, mad. Why am I involved, you ask? For many reasons, but I will only give you a couple.

For the past three years I have spent my time volunteering at Rancho De Sus NiƱos, an orphanage just outside of Tecate, Mexico. I say orphanage because that is how it began 20-plus years ago; these days it is actually an orphanage, a daycare, a K-through-college school system, a hospice, and a ministry providing free, clean drinking water to area families and garbage service so their community doesn't have to live in filth. It has grown because Rancho people see a need, fill it, and worry about the funding later. It is a faith-based organization and they are being the hands and feet of God. You don't even have to be religious to see the good they do and the financial and social change they bring to a very impoverished area. The couple that runs Rancho, Jimmy and Genea Horner, left a very successful land development and homebuilding business in Southern California to bring their time, talent and treasure to those in need.

So, February 29th through March 7th we will build a house -- a 2,272-square foot, seven-bedroom, three-bath house, completely furnished, at a cost of $70,000. That is only about $31 per square foot; for reference, the average cost per square foot to build in Nashville is around $110 per square foot, unfurnished. I have included a snapshot of the floor plan so you can see the layout. 

Plan View
Now that we have all the particulars out of the way, this is what I am asking my fellow designers, architects, decorators, craftsmen, anyone in the design community: help me with this project. You can donate funds via Hopepark Church (select "Other" and please mark your contribution “Rancho House in a Week.”) All donations are tax deductible. You can talk to your vendors about donating goods and services -- we need everything from concrete to pillowcases. Or you can lend us a hand, literally -- I would love to see some of you actually come to Mexico with me. Post a comment below, follow the links provided, or message me on Twitter (@Billy_Williams) to let me know how you would like to contribute ... you might even have a way that I’ve not thought of. Even if you are unable to help right now, there may be someone in your world who can. So re-post, tweet, facebook, spread the word by carrier pigeon if you have to … just spread the word.

As a design community we have the daily privilege of bringing beauty, form and function to our clients’ lives. Join me in bringing beauty to the desert ... to people who would never be able to afford our services or benefit from our talents.

Thank you,

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Perfect Tree

My Christmas tree is a mess, a hodgepodge of items that neither match nor make good sense color-scheme wise. Wood, glass, plastic, paper … unknown substances hang from its branches with no apparent rhyme or reason. It's PERFECT!

I am not so sure that a Christmas tree should be a reflection of the latest and greatest decorating trend. I am of a mind that it should be a story of life, its branches heavy with thoughts and memories, scattered about like jewels. The hand-blown glass ornaments purchased in Colorado for the first Christmas. Four small hand-painted glass balls from the late 1930s, their colors dulled by time. My mother gave them to me a few years back -- they were hers as a child; they hung on our tree when I was a child. Cheap satin red balls purchased at Big Lots, reminders of lean financial times. Three tiny rocking horses which were originally flower arrangement decorations received when our son was born. I made them into ornaments complete with his birth stats handwritten on each one … in Sharpie, of course. I see a green and red construction paper wreath framing the face of my son when he was in kindergarten; he has a son of his own now. Ornaments from friends and family that have come from all over the world and now reside in my world. And it is all topped off with an angel from Sears, her mauve cardboard dress a bit tattered after 27 years. She was a gift from my great-grandmother who passed away in the ‘90s -- in her 90s.

To me, it's not about what my tree contains, but who. I sit looking at each eclectic treasure and see a loved one captured in a moment in time … that is the true gift. So my 2011 Christmas design advice is, if you want a decorator tree with matching black and silver ribbons and bows, go for it. But also take the time to decorate another tree -- fill it with memories. Look at each piece you hang and remember the moment and the person it represents … soak it in. I bet I can guess which of the two trees will bring you the most joy.

What is your favorite Christmas ornament or memory?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The "Nest" Thermostat

This is a hot idea...or maybe it's a cool product, either way, I love it. 

About 14 years ago I installed my first programmable thermostat to help save on my heating and cooling bills. I have since replaced it with newer versions as they have become smarter and smarter. The problem has been that the thermostats are either hard to program or have few day-evening-night-weekend setting options, so they work on a fairly rigid schedule. This means I spend a lot of time overriding the settings that took me forever to program in the first place. To me, this looks to be the answer to all of this: a thermostat that learns how you live and works with you to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home, while saving energy. 

Also, from a design point of view, it is a very attractive device -- clean and sleek looking.  

Rather than have me go on about it, take a look at this video.

You can also visit the Nest site here

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Are We Afraid to Innovate?


These seem to be the five phases of design. We start out to innovate, look for inspiration, which usually leads to imitation, where we see our (perceived) creative limitations, which eventually leads to total exasperation. Do we follow this chain of events because we doubt our own eyes or brains ... maybe because we are afraid to put forward what we think is innovative because someone will shoot it down? Creativity leaves us very vulnerable.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry Miller: "Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifle because we lack the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty." The line that strikes me the most is "...we lack the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth" -- that is it in a nutshell. We don't believe what we imagine as innovation is true -- only those like the late Steve Jobs innovate, right? 

Apex Design ©2011 b. williams design
Earlier this year I was granted a great opportunity to design some concept kitchens with the idea that there was "no box." However, without the client's knowledge, their well-meaning ad agency began to send me image after image of what was "cutting edge," "innovative" -- before they had even seen what I could do. I actually never looked at the images they sent, as I felt it would taint my creativity and not allow me to do what I had been asked. I know that sounds egotistical but hear me out. They were sending images from magazines. Now consider the timeline associated with those images. The magazine article was four months old which means the story was most likely written five months ago, which means the project was at least eight to nine months in the build phase; add another six to 12 months from conception to actual building date. This means by the time I see this innovative design it is already two years old or older. To have designed from those images would have been imitated innovation at best. 

I have an Android phone; it seems innovative in a "How can we compete with iPhone" kind of way. Apple did (does) a great job innovating so by the time HTC imitates Apple's newest device, that device is old news and Apple is on to the next innovation. Sometimes we don't innovate because we fear those around us just "won't get it" My designs were published in an article in an industry magazine. A few weeks later a highly successful architect friend of mine, whose views I greatly respect, spent a good amount of time telling why my designs were not right because they did not fit within the confines of historical architectural thinking. He said they were outside the "rules of design." My response would be, "Whose rules?" I didn't sign up to design so I could simply follow a rigid set of rules -- maybe I want to break the rule so it can be re-written. In my mind my designs worked, if for no other reason than they made him think. 

So here is my advice: innovate. Sit and design something out of your own mind, no matter how weird or unconventional it seems. (You might not want to do this on a work-for-hire -- or maybe you do.) Believe that YOU might know what the next innovation is, that YOU know what beauty is, that the crowd should follow YOU, not the other way around. Recently, I sent a kitchen design to a client where I took a chance and put a small door at the bottom of the upper cabinets and the larger door above. His comment  was, "Are you suggesting we put a drawer in the upper cabinet?!" I explained it was a door and that my concept was to set the look of his kitchen apart. I took a chance; it cost me nothing. He chose to go the traditional route but I like the idea and someday a client will like it, too.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jocks and Nerds

It was almost like being back in high school -- the "cool" people didn't want to be seen with the "un-cool," the jocks giving noogies to the nerds, and those band geeks like me stuck in-between with no social status at all. (By the way, this post has nothing to do with design ... please file under "Ramblings.") 

Photograph: Roy McMahon/Zefa/Corbis
I am, of course, not talking about high school; I am making reference to my recent little experiment with Klout. For those of you who don't know what Klout is, it is one of a growing number of "social media influence measuring services." In its own words, Klout is THE measure of influence. Really?! Let me tell you what bothers me about Klout and the other social media indicators out there: in a word, they are divisive. They tell the jocks who the nerds are and bid them to keep their digital-distance for fear of digital cooties. They stratify people according to their ability to influence the so-called influencers. They make those among us who enjoy social media for the right reasons (being social) doubt our worth once we and our friends are stuffed into neat and tidy high-school-esque boxes. Now, the service may not do it outright but the matrix by which they reduce you to a mere number is the world's largest schmooze-fest. 

When I started this little journey, my Klout score was actually decent, even though I had never heard of or pandered to my score. I looked into how they quantified my social media interactions and decided to play their game for a few weeks ... just for fun. Within a few days I took my very average score of 36 and power "klouted" it into a 71. That is up there with the big boys like Conan and social media celebrities. I then made the mistake of tweeting a friend my new score. They were devastated, not because my score was higher than theirs but because I seemingly reduced our social media relationship to a competition. I later found out this person had been un-followed by a group of muckety-mucks who didn't want to reduce their own scores by being associated. How incredibly juvenile. 

Though I was a band geek in school, my mother had taught me to respect people for who they are inside. My best friends were a jock, a speech club nerd, a student council president and a fellow band geek who was teased mercilessly because of his acne. They are all wonderful people with great hearts and minds; they are not numbers to be manipulated, reduced or artificially inflated. I have since gone back to my normal social media routine which consists mostly of being goofy and occasionally linking to this blog or something that is actually cool, and my Klout score is dropping faster than a high school prom dress.  One of my favorite people to follow (who has a Klout score of 15) has my attention; when he speaks, I listen. I see him as a person not a number. 

I have decided to start my own social media grading system -- I'll call it B-Dubs. If I think you are a human, I'll give you 100 B-Dubs. If I think you are an internet bot without a soul, I will give you zero B-Dubs. Enjoy the people in your path, open your ears to jock, nerd and every so-called status above, below and in-between. Life is meant to be shared and if you do this, yours will be richer.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trends and Time Capsules

I've heard this statement in defense of something hideous or outdated, more than once in my time in the industry: "I have classic taste; I don't want to be trendy."

What we're really talking about is the difference between trendy and trending. Let me list a few things that are or have been trendy: pet rocks, parachute pants, the mullet, velvet Elvis paintings, orange-and-black shag carpet, and David Hasselhoff. None of these things should you design a room around.  And then there are trendings, such as popular color pallettes, furniture stylings and restylings, architectural elements -- these things are trending, they're in constant evolution. Do we still paint rooms green?  Yes. Is it Hunter Green? No. Colors are trending.

So when a client defends something unattractive or awful with the words, "I don't want to be trendy," in my mind I hear: A) "I have an emotional attachment," or B) "I am trendy -- that trend has long passed. I have bad taste and don't know it."

Let's begin with A. I totally understand emotional attachments. However, they should never be allowed to cripple or date a new design. When it's first suggested you remove your brass-and-black-laquer sofa table with matching framed Nagle print, your reaction may be, "But I love that piece!" Maybe the questions to ask yourself are, "Why do I love it?" "Would it work somewhere else?" "Would a picture of it in a memory album suffice?" "How does it speak in the current landscape of my design?" The same goes for color. The beauty of updating your kitchen cabinetry, appliances, flooring, window treatments, countertops, can be easily negated if you insist on reusing your favorite mauve pallette, which has long been retired by the rest of the world.

Now let's deal with the elephant in the room, B. It's been said "Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder." Your collection of 3,000 hand-painted miniature garden gnomes might be the most beautiful thing you've ever seen but that doesn't mean you should design a room around them. It's also okay to admit you don't have good color sense or you don't keep up with current trendings.What I'm saying is, among other things, bad taste and time capsule decor can be overcome with the help of a professional. Even as a designer, admittedly there are things within that world where others have more of a gifting. My strengths are space planning, color, cabinetry and hard goods. When it comes to rugs, window treatments and furniture placement, I enlist the help of other designers and decorators. If you need help, get help.

As I mentioned in the previous blog (and I mention this time with a caveat that color trends are tricky), if it's on the market, in a magazine, and available anywhere but Goodwill, it's probably part of a current trending.

So here's a quiz to determine if something should stay or go:

1. Is it an heirloom piece, or is it nice enough to become an heirloom piece?
      A. If your answer is no, it should be gone.
      B. If your answer is yes, now ask yourself:
              1. Should it be put in storage until it becomes cool again?
              2. Should it be moved to another room and enjoyed? Or
              3. Does it honestly work within your new design aesthetic?

2. If you saw your room in a magazine but it wasn't your room, would you question the sanity of using this piece or color in the design?

3. Will my choices -- color and otherwise -- make people entering my home feel like they've stepped back in time?
     A. If your answer is yes, please seek professional help.
     B. If your answer is no, please seek professional help ... to confirm or deny your findings. Mauve, for some reason, is still available.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Death By Committee

What's the quickest way to kill a good idea? Appoint a committee to discuss it.

This post will concentrate on working with your designer or architect or decorator to achieve the very best outcome. And my basic point here is, design-by-committee does not work.

Actually I consider design-by-committee the equivalent of painting by numbers. Does it look like a horse? Of course. Would you hang it in a museum? I hope not.

To execute any vision for a space, and my specialty is kitchens and baths, the reason you hire a professional is you need someone who is the visionary and has the expertise to know what will and won't work. Imagine having your dental work done by committee; the orthodontist has the vision and expertise, yet you check with everyone from the hygienist to the maintenance staff and come back to the doctor with their plan. It's safe to say you would have an interesting-looking grill.

So the first thing you should do is work with the designer, architect or decorator that you trust, and that doesn't necessarily mean their taste has to be your taste. It means they work in a professional realm and they can bring to fruition your design by interpreting your aesthetic. Where the trouble begins is where you don't believe your own criterion of truth and that fear causes you to second-guess the design choices. Most of the time when I encounter a client who wants to design by committee, it has more to do with their fear of making a decision and having to defend it later. Thus begins the journey into Committee Land, where every design aspect is run past a neighbor, a daughter-in-law, a daughter, a great Aunt, a cousin twice removed, someone you met in the grocery store and the yard guy, all who once watched an episode of something on HGTV and therefore, somehow, have more credibility with you than your own design team.

I'm not saying you shouldn't seek counsel, but when seeking that counsel begins to fragment the original design, look and feel, the trust begins to unravel between you and your design professionals. The design becomes convoluted. And 90-percent of the time, people end up with a final product that is very, very similar to what they began with.

So here are my five tips to save yourself from design death-by-committee:

1. Trust the professional. Not only will they help you create something much greater but in most cases will save you money by not allowing you to make mistakes.
2. Don't be swayed by well-meaning people's advice or criticism. Should you seek wise counsel? Yes. Do you always have to follow it? No.
3. Don't be afraid of change. Some people avoid design changes and blame it on not wanting to be "trendy" when, in actuality, anything on the market right now is the trend.
4. Relax and trust yourself. Your kitchen wall color is not a life game-changer; it's a kitchen wall color.
5. Have fun sharing your new designs with the aforementioned people confidently. If they don't like it, it's okay.
6. Never trust a man who wears suspenders and a belt; don't trust a man who doesn't trust his pants.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Feeling a Little Blog

I have a little blog. If you are reading this, you have seen it. Not a lot here, a thought or story once a month or so -- ramblings, mostly. I have two friends that have completely opposite takes on blogging. One blogs every day. Every day. I am not sure I even think every day, much less gather those thoughts and write them down for the world to comment on. His blog is insightful, funny, snarky, smart. It is his goal to write everyday, part of his routine to wake, eat, brush teeth, jog ... and blog. He shares huge portions of his life with the public at large. On the flip side, my other friend thinks blogging would put too much of her life on display; even if the blog were about things other than her, she believes it would always come back to her interpretation, mind and heart, and expose too much. Funny, her Grandmother journaled and those journals were eventually made into a book - a blog in hardback?! I fit right in the middle. I blog when I want, and hope people read it and find a nugget to take away. I neither market it to the masses or keep it hidden ... it simply exists. I feel there is nothing wrong with any of these approaches.

I spent today at the World of Whirlpool as a guest of Jenn-Air appliances and Digitas, a digital branding agency. It was a bloggers' luncheon and a chance for the Whirlpool corporation to show off its new Chicago facility and get a buzz going in blog land. By the way, WOW, as they call it, is quite apropos. With the exception of me, they invited big-time bloggers, industry-leading bloggers, blog gods (small "g"), even. I expected a room full of smelly hipsters sipping chai; what it turned out to be was a room full of ladies: professionals, moms, singles, and everything in-between. Being the only guy there, I stayed at the back of the group and tried to blend in with the Whirlpool employees. I stuck out like a sore thumb. We looked at each brand in the Whirlpool family, snapped pictures with our smart phones, tweeted, re-tweeted, ate a fabulous lunch, learned about invisible stains, which seems a bit of an oxymoron but has apparently plagued mankind since creation, and asked lots of questions.

Now, here is my take on the event. I think it is grassroots marketing at its finest. Peer-to-peer is the best way to sell your brand -- in the old days we called it "word of mouth." One of the ladies in the group summed it up with a great comment concerning the purchase of an Induction Cooktop. "I need a friend to buy one first," she said. Advertising is great, but we all want someone we trust to tell us it's OK. I looked back over the Twitter feed from the event and saw the conversation that had already started ... induction, stain removal, home brew laundry concoctions. I would also venture a guess that at some point these bloggers will do what they do and blog. There was no hard sell, no "But wait, there's more" gimmick. What a great idea, to pull the curtain back at Oz and let people see what you have.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What's The Difference?

One of my Facebook friends had an interesting status the other day. It read, "What is the difference between art and decoration?" At first I just hit the "Like" button, considering it a nice ponder, but the question has been with me all week. What makes art "Art" and what makes other art simply "decoration"? It's the same question I ask myself about my favorite TV shows, "American Pickers" and "Hoarders" -- one man's trash is another man's treasure.

(Photo: Case Study #22 by Julius Shulman, Circa 1960 - Art in three styles: Architecture, Image, Photography Style. This image moves me.)

I think for me to answer the question honestly, I have to look at the effect each has on my heart and mind. I consider true art to be a very high calling. I don't necessarily have to like something to consider it art; actually the fact I don't like it may be the very thing that places it in the art category. Art always stirs emotion. There should be a visceral reaction to its form or color or subject -- or the lack thereof. Art has a tension to it. Consider Monet and Picasso, who painted things as they saw them, not as they actually were; there is the tension. Even masters of realism like Michelangelo and Titian created great tension in their work, drawing the viewer in, making us question why or how. Decoration, on the other hand, is neutral. It fills space and may be pleasant to the eye but it doesn't affect the heart.

Like most of you, I have many things in my home. Some items are there simply to keep the space from feeling empty and to add form and balance to a room: decorations. Then there are those pieces that capture my attention: art. These are the things I look at and ponder, their significance, my significance. They turn on that seldom-used part of my brain that searches for answers and craves beauty over clutter. I can look at them a million different times and feel a million different things. They are timeless and will not end up as garage sale fodder in the next few years as trends and tastes change.

How would you answer the question, "What is the difference between art and decoration?"